Legal Research on the Internet

AuthorTed Tjaden
Pages133-156
133
CHA PTER 5
LEGAL RESEARCH ON
THE INTERNET
A. INTRODUCTION
The Internet continues to drastically change legal research. Tradition-
ally, legal researchers used print m aterials in law libraries to f‌ind law-
related information. They were thereby limited to t he amount of space
and materials t he print-based law library could afford, a limitation that
often meant that the law libra ry had a f‌inite collection focusing on ma-
terials from w ithin its own jurisdiction. While CD-ROMs and online
commercial databases have brought legal research to the researcher’s
desktop (especially over the last twenty to t wenty-f‌ive years), it has
been recent Internet technology that continues to revolutionize t he
way legal research is conducted. This ch apter will focu s on freely avail-
able Internet resources, while Chapter 6 will focus on commercial, fee-
based online legal research databases.
The free Internet has several applications for legal research:
• as a source of information (searching the World Wide Web)
• as a mea ns of communication (using e-mail)
as a v irtual community (using law-related disc ussion groups, blogs,
and RSS feeds)
The usefulness of the Internet for legal research is reinforced by its
wide availability t hroughout most jurisdictions i n the world and its rela-
tive ease of use. A part icularly nice feature of the Internet is the abilit y to
expand legal resources b eyond the walls of one’s own print law library
LEGAL R ESEARCH AND W RITING134
to online international and foreign legal resources that would not have
been easily accessible to most researchers through tradit ional means.
While the Internet has a number of useful features, it is always ne-
cessary for the re searcher to evaluate the quality of information being
found, especially since not all m aterial on the Internet has been subject
to the same level of editorial control as most pri nt or online fee-based
publications.
B. EVALUATING WEB INFOR M ATION
There are standard criter ia by which free websites should be evaluated.1
These criteria include a number of th ings that evaluate the qualit y and
reliability of the inform ation to be found on the site:
Authorship: Who authored the mater ial? Is it clear who owns the web-
site? Is the site aff‌iliated with a rel iable or known publisher or organ-
ization? Does the site provide a maili ng address, phone number, and
e-mail address? It is always import ant to consider authorship when
using freely available websites — anyone can publish a website with
relative ease with no objective editorial policies or control.
Accuracy and quality: Is the site free of spelling and grammat ical er-
rors? Does the site contain broken links? Well-maintained websites
tend to indicate that the owner of the site is taking the time to keep
the information current and accurate.
Pur pose: Why does the website exist? Is it trying to sell a product or
advocate a particular v iewpoint? Print publications, like websites,
can contain biased points of view. The one difference between print
publications and websites, however, may be the ease with which one
can access web pages and the speed by which one may scan the in-
formation without appreciating that t he information may contain
subtle biase s.
Scope : What is the scope or date range of the materi al on the website?
How often is the site updated? Good websites will show when the
1 See, for example, Joot aek Lee, “Gatekeepers of Legal In formation: Evaluating
and Integrat ing Free Internet Legal Resou rces into the Classroom” (2012) 17
Barry Law Re view 221; Meris Bray, “Unraveling the Web: Deter mining Website
Trustworthi ness” in David P Whelan, Man aging Information Overload: Inte rnet
Resources, Tips and Tools (Toronto: Law Society of Upper Can ada, 2008); JUSTIA
Virtual Chase, “Information Quality,” online: http://virtualchase.justia.com/
other-resources /information-qual ity; Southern Illinoi s University School of Law
Library, “Evaluat ing Websites and Other Informat ion Resources,” online: www.
law.siu.edu/lawlib/guides/eval.htm; Marcus P Zillman, “Information Quality Re-
sources” (18 July 2014), online: www.llrx.com/features/informationquality.htm.

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